Caister Academic Press

Astrobiology: Current, Evolving, and Emerging Perspectives | Book

Publisher: Caister Academic Press
Edited by: André Antunes
Macau University of Science and Technology, Macau SAR, China
Pages: vi + 246
Paperback:
Publication date: February 2020
ISBN: 978-1-912530-30-4
Price: GB £159 or US $319Buy book
Ebook:
Publication date: February 2020
ISBN: 978-1-912530-31-1
Price: GB £159 or US $319
DOI: https://doi.org/10.21775/9781912530304

Astrobiology is a modern cross-disciplinary research field which studies the origin and development of life in the universe and includes the search for extinct and currently existing organisms outside our planet. As part of this on-going search, astrobiology successfully combines researchers and techniques from the fields of biology, geology, chemistry and planetary sciences.

This volume includes contributions from several leading astrobiologists across the globe, providing an overview of their respective fields and highlighting current and emerging topics. Topics of note include: overview of astrobiology, the origin of life, habitability, and future exploration; planetary protection and the application of molecular methodologies for analyzing potential microbial contaminants in space missions; organic matter and biosignatures in space missions; life in impact craters; microbial exploration of terrestrial analogue sites (of Mars and the of the icy moons of the outer solar system); insights from microbiological studies in low pressure environments and in the stratosphere.

Aimed at research scientists, advanced students and other professionals, this informative and up-to-date book is an invaluable review on current research in astrobiology and is an essential acquisition for anyone involved in this cross-disciplinary field. This contribution is particularly timely given the upcoming wave of space missions focused on astrobiology and targeting Mars and the icy moons of the outer solar system.

Table of contents
1. Following the Astrobiology Roadmap: Origins, Habitability and Future Exploration
Aubrie O'Rourke, Angela Zoumplis, Paul Wilburn, Michael D. Lee, Zhi Lee, Marissa Vecina and Kysha Mercader
Astrobiology asks three fundamental questions as outlined by the NASA Astrobiology Roadmap: 1. How did Life begin and evolve?; Is there Life elsewhere in the Universe?; and, What is the future of Life on Earth? As we gain perspective on how Life on Earth arose and adapted to its many niches, we too gain insight into how a planet achieves habitability. Here on Earth, microbial Life has evolved to exist in a wide range of habitats from aquatic systems to deserts, the human body, and the International Space Station (ISS). Landers, rovers, and orbiter missions support the search for signatures of Life beyond Earth, by generating data on surface and subsurface conditions of other worlds. These have provided evidence for water activity, supporting the potential for extinct or extant Life. To investigate the putative ecologies of these systems, we study extreme environments on Earth. Several locations on our planet provide analog settings to those we have detected or expect to find on neighboring and distant worlds. Whereas, the field of space biology uses the ISS and low gravity analogs to gain insight on how transplanted Earth-evolved organisms will respond to extraterrestrial environments. Modern genomics allows us to chronicle the genetic makeup of such organisms and provides an understanding of how Life adapts to various extreme environments.
2. Are we There Yet? Understanding Interplanetary Microbial Hitchhikers using Molecular Methods
Alexander J. Probst and Parag Vaishampayan
Since the early time of space travel, planetary bodies undergoing chemical or biological evolution have been of particular interest for life detection missions. NASA's and ESA's Planetary Protection offices ensure responsible exploration of the solar system and aim at avoiding inadvertent contamination of celestial bodies with biomolecules or even living organisms. Life forms that have the potential to colonize foreign planetary bodies could be a threat to the integrity of science objectives of life detection missions. While standard requirements for assessing the cleanliness of spacecraft are still based on cultivation approaches, several molecular methods have been applied in the past to elucidate the full breadth of (micro)organisms that can be found on spacecraft and in cleanrooms, where the hardware is assembled. Here, we review molecular assays that have been applied in Planetary Protection research and list their significant advantages and disadvantages. By providing a comprehensive summary of the latest molecular methods yet to be applied in this research area, this article will not only aid in designing technological roadmaps for future Planetary Protection endeavors but also help other disciplines in environmental microbiology that deal with low biomass samples.
3. Detection of Organic Matter and Biosignatures in Space Missions
Zita Martins
Carbon-based compounds are widespread throughout the Universe, including abiotic molecules that are the components of the life as we know it. This article reviews the space missions that have aimed to detect organic matter and biosignatures in planetary bodies of our solar system. While to date there was only one life-detection space mission, i.e., the Viking mission to Mars, several past and present space missions have searched for organic matter, paving the way for the future detection of signatures of extra-terrestrial life. This review also reports on the in-situ analysis of organic matter and sample-return missions from primitive bodies, i.e. comets and asteroids, providing crucial information on the conditions of the early solar system as well as on the building blocks of life delivered to the primitive Earth.
4. Microbial Life in Impact Craters
Charles S. Cockell, Gordon Osinski, Haley Sapers, Alexandra Pontefract and John Parnell
Asteroid and comet impacts are known to have caused profound disruption to multicellular life, yet their influence on habitats for microorganisms, which comprise the majority of Earth's biomass, is less well understood. Of particular interest are geological changes in the target lithology at and near the point of impact that can persist for billions of years. Deep subsurface and surface-dwelling microorganisms are shown to gain advantages from impact-induced fracturing of rocks. Deleterious changes are associated with impact-induced closure of pore spaces in rocks. Superimposed on these long-term geological changes are post-impact alterations such as changes in the hydrological system in and around a crater. The close coupling between geological changes and the conditions for microorganisms yields a synthesis of the fields of microbiology and impact cratering. We use these data to discuss how craters can be used in the search for life beyond Earth.
5. Impact of Simulated Martian Conditions on (Facultatively) Anaerobic Bacterial Strains from Different Mars Analogue Sites
Kristina Beblo-Vranesevic, Maria Bohmeier, Sven Schleumer, Elke Rabbow, Alexandra K. Perras, Christine Moissl-Eichinger, Petra Schwendner, Charles S. Cockell, Pauline Vannier, Viggo T. Marteinsson, Euan P. Monaghan, Andreas Riedo, Pascale Ehrenfreund, Laura Garcia-Descalzo, Felipe Gómez, Moustafa Malki, Ricardo Amils, Frédéric Gaboyer, Keyron Hickman-Lewis, Frances Westall, Patricia Cabezas, Nicolas Walter and Petra Rettberg
Five bacterial (facultatively) anaerobic strains, namely Buttiauxella sp. MASE-IM-9, Clostridium sp. MASE-IM-4, Halanaerobium sp. MASE-BB-1, Trichococcus sp. MASE-IM-5, and Yersinia intermedia MASE-LG-1 isolated from different extreme natural environments were subjected to Mars relevant environmental stress factors in the laboratory under controlled conditions. These stress factors encompassed low water activity, oxidizing compounds, and ionizing radiation. Stress tests were performed under permanently anoxic conditions. The survival rate after addition of sodium perchlorate (Na-perchlorate) was found to be species-specific. The inter-comparison of the five microorganisms revealed that Clostridium sp. MASE-IM-4 was the most sensitive strain (D10-value (15 min, NaClO4) = 0.6 M). The most tolerant microorganism was Trichococcus sp. MASE-IM-5 with a calculated D10-value (15 min, NaClO4) of 1.9 M. Cultivation in the presence of Na-perchlorate in Martian relevant concentrations up to 1 wt% led to the observation of chains of cells in all strains. Exposure to Na-perchlorate led to a lowering of the survival rate after desiccation. Consecutive exposure to desiccating conditions and ionizing radiation led to additive effects. Moreover, in a desiccated state, an enhanced radiation tolerance could be observed for the strains Clostridium sp. MASE-IM-4 and Trichococcus sp. MASE-IM-5. These data show that anaerobic microorganisms from Mars analogue environments can resist a variety of Martian-simulated stresses either individually or in combination. However, responses were species-specific and some Mars-simulated extremes killed certain organisms. Thus, although Martian stresses would be expected to act differentially on microorganisms, none of the expected extremes tested here and found on Mars prevent the growth of anaerobic microorganisms.
6. Exploring Deep-Sea Brines as Potential Terrestrial Analogues of Oceans in the Icy Moons of the Outer Solar System
André Antunes, Karen Olsson-Francis and Terry J. McGenity
Several icy moons of the outer solar system have been receiving considerable attention and are currently seen as major targets for astrobiological research and the search for life beyond our planet. Despite the limited amount of data on the oceans of these moon, we expect them to be composed of brines with variable chemistry, some degree of hydrothermal input, and be under high pressure conditions. The combination of these different conditions significantly limits the number of extreme locations, which can be used as terrestrial analogues. Here we propose the use of deep-sea brines as potential terrestrial analogues to the oceans in the outer solar system. We provide an overview of what is currently known about the conditions on the icy moons of the outer solar system and their oceans as well as on deep-sea brines of the Red Sea and the Mediterranean and their microbiology. We also identify several threads of future research, which would be particularly useful in the context of future exploration of these extra-terrestrial oceans.
7. Exploring Microbial Activity in Low-pressure Environments
Petra Schwendner and Andrew C. Schuerger
The importance of hypopiezophilic and hypopiezotolerant microorganisms (i.e., life that grows at low atmospheric pressures; see section 2) in the field of astrobiology cannot be overstated. The ability to reproduce and thrive at Martian atmospheric pressure (0.2 to 1.2 kPa) is of high importance to both modeling the forward contamination of its planetary surface and predicting the habitability of Mars. On Earth, microbial growth at low pressure also has implications for the dissemination of microorganisms within clouds or the bulk atmosphere. Yet our ability to understand the effect of low pressure on microbial metabolism, growth, cellular structure and integrity, and adaptation is still limited. We present current knowledge on hypopiezophilic and hypopiezotolerant microorganisms, methods for isolation and cultivation, justify why there should be more focus for future research, and discuss their importance for astrobiology.
8. Earth's Stratosphere and Microbial Life
Priya DasSarma, André Antunes, Marta Filipa Simões and Shiladitya DasSarma
The Earth's atmosphere is an extremely large and sparse environment which is quite challenging for the survival of microorganisms. We have long wondered about the limits to life in the atmosphere, starting with Leeuwenhoek's observation of "animalcules" collected from the air. In the past century, significant progress has been made to capture and identify biological material from varying elevations, from a few meters above ground level, to the clouds near mountaintops, and the jet streams, the ozone layer, and even higher up in the stratosphere. Collection and detection techniques have been developed and advanced in order to assess the potential diversity of life from very high altitudes. Studies of microbial life in the stratosphere with its multiple stressors (cold, dry, irradiated, with low pressure and limited nutrients), have recently garnered considerable attention. Here, we review studies of Earth's atmosphere, with emphasis on the stratosphere, addressing implications for astrobiology, the dispersal of microbes around our planet, planetary protection, and climate change.

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(EAN: 9781912530304 9781912530311 Subjects: [bacteriology] [environmental microbiology] [microbiology] [molecular microbiology] )